I’m going to be brutally honest with you (which isn’t actually a new thing, but I like the way that phrase sounds at the start of an article): I wasn’t expecting Takedown: Red Sabre to be what it is. From the brief bit of research I did before playing it, I was expecting something like… oh, I don’t know. Something like Counter-Strike. Something themed around terrorists and counter-terrorists, and headshots, and having very little health but still leaping around maps.
What it actually is, is probably the closest thing to SWAT 3 or Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon I’ve seen in a very, very long time. So: developers, I’m sorry for having doubted you.
Takedown puts you in the black and shiny combat boots of a member of Red Sabre, a slightly iffy PMC devoted to morally murky missions and killing people for money. You might, for instance, have to free a cargo ship that’s been hijacked by pirates (think Somalia, not Guybrush Threepwood). That’s a good thing! Alternatively, you might have to assault a biolab before the people who’ve captured it reveal to the world that the company was working on bioweapons. That’s… a bit darker.
Although, in truth, the settings don’t actually matter that much. This isn’t a game with a heavy storyline; it’s a game where mission briefings provide little more than flavour. It’s not a game with a lengthy linked campaign (assuming this isn’t going to change from the version I played to the version that’ll hit the internet on Friday, at least); it’s a game in which you can pick any mission from the start, and they don’t appear to be tied together. It’s a game built around gameplay. It’s also a game that I’d say is largely focused on multiplayer, although developers Serellan might argue that.
So yes, you take control of a Red Sabre chap, armed with one of a dizzying array of realistic weapons that can be customised to your liking (even to the extent of putting a holographic sight on a sniper rifle, if you really think that’s a good idea). In single-player you can either take on a Mission (in which you have AI companions that will follow your lead), load up a Tango Hunt map in which you have to find and kill every enemy, or go for a Bomb Disarm in which you have to… well, you can figure it out. Happily, all of the maps are playable in all of the modes. More happily, enemy locations and patrol paths are randomised each time, as are a few of the objectives. While experience will teach which rooms might be tricky to fight in, you certainly can’t learn enemy layouts.
This is a good thing, both in terms of replayability (as the game will ship with only five maps, not counting the Kill House training levels) and in terms of sheer nerve-shredding tension. Like I said, this takes after games like SWAT and Ghost Recon.
One or two shots will drop you, depending on where they hit you, and bullet penetration (modelled in such an in-depth way that the explanation went so far over my head it was picked up by radar) means that you need to consider what you’re using for cover. Your default movement is an agonisingly slow walk, which keeps your weapon primed with high accuracy and keeps you stealthy, with “run” and “sprint” bound to different keys. You can lean around corners – and you’ll have to, not least because weapon length is modelled so that if you’re pressed up against a doorframe, your lengthy M4 will not be at the ready. And, considering the lethality of bullets, you do not want to be caught in a big firefight; taking people down quietly – but, more importantly, quickly – is generally the order of the day.
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So yeah, you can play by yourself, but it’s in multiplayer that the game and all of these little quirks really get entertaining. I discovered this first-hand by spending an hour playing with Serellan employees.
I’ll walk you through it. We started off doing co-op missions, which were terrifying for two reasons: firstly, I was playing with developers, so I really didn’t want to embarrass myself by instantly dying and making everyone think they were wasting their time. Secondly, the game is just that bloody tense. Every single corner could be hiding an enemy that might cut you down before you can react. Every open space is a potential killing field. Every desk could have a hostile soldier behind it. It’s terrifying. It’s even more terrifying because there are none of the usual FPS helping hands; you have no hit markers and no kill markers, and friendly fire is permanently on. Panic and shoot at the first sign of movement and you might’ve just killed an ally.
It’s terrifying enough that, within about 60 seconds of starting, the idle banter and discussions about the game faded away into situation report. “Okay, I’m going through that door; I’ll cover the left, one of you come in behind me and check the right.” “I’m not sure if I got the guy behind the desk; be careful.” “You go up the stairs, I’ll cover you from behind.” The reason? If you don’t communicate the situation and work together, you all die very quickly.
And then your allies start getting taken down. One is shot by an enemy nobody saw. Another two are taken down when an enemy wanders up from behind to investigate the noise. One by one, you’re getting picked off like teenagers in a slasher movie. And then… there’s only you left. Only you, and everyone else is watching, and if you cock up at all you’re dead too.
So yeah, in terms of tension and lethality, it’s sort of like Rainbow Six.
After a couple of attempts on these maps, we swapped over to the competitive multiplayer modes. All of these work on a no-respawn basis; once you’re dead, you’re out until the next round. I’m proud to report that I acquitted myself reasonably well, and the Serellan employees totally weren’t going easy on me. Definitely. Probably.
Anyway: there’s Attack/Defend, which has one team guarding a bomb while the other team tries to disarm it, and the teams swap over every round. There’s Team Deathmatch, where two teams face off against each other and quickly distinguishing between friends and foes is of paramount importance. Finally, there’s Last Man Standing, a free-for-all deathmatch mode with only one survivor.
These modes use sssslightly different maps. Some would simply be far too big for enjoyable multiplayer, so Attack/Defend – for instance – has them divided up into smaller sections to keep everything flowing along. There are also some specially designed maps based on the Kill House training missions, which is where things get really interesting. I’m going to preface what I’m about to tell you with “As I understand it,” which is journalist code for “I’m not quite sure I got this right, but…”
So, here’s the thing. Christian Allen, the studio founder and the game’s creative director (formerly of the Ghost Recon series, amongst other FPSes), started off his career in gaming by modding Rainbow Six, so you might say he’s got a bit of a soft spot for modding. As such, Takedown: Red Sabre will support mods.
As I understand it (there we are…) it hasn’t quite been decided how far into the game the mods will penetrate. At a bare minimum, it looks as though you’ll be able to create your own maps, and making this easier is the fact that the Kill House maps – the training areas for single-player, and extra arenas for multiplayer – are pretty much designed out of pre-fabricated rooms and objects that can be slotted together however you like, which might mean that even I can slap something horribly imbalanced together. And if I’ve got this terribly wrong, I apologise.
Which is all spiffing, obviously; mod support is something I’m always happy to see and the basic gameplay is almost completely unique in this day and age, . But – while playing it in multiplayer was great fun – I remain unconvinced by the single-player, which lacks the sort of planning and orders that would make it a truly viable mode, and while the graphics are serviceable and cohesive, they’re not up to super-shiny AAA standards. Neither of these, though, are likely to matter to the target demographic.
Friend of IncGamers Adam Gell told me a story about SWAT 3 multiplayer clans a little while back, and the somewhat absurd lengths they’d go to. One had a specially-designed map they’d run potential recruits though. They’d play with voice communications, relying on real-life tactics to get them through missions. They’d cover each other and work together like a well-oiled machine, and joining this clan was not an easy task.
That level of dedication, I think, is what Takedown: Red Sabre really needs from its playerbase. Make no mistake – this is a game that will live or die based on how the multiplayer community takes to it. If the community fizzles out fairly quickly, it’ll likely eke out an existence for awhile with occasional surges of interest. But if it picks up a bit of steam and some genuinely serious clans come together for SWAT-esque battles on custom maps, and if heavy modifications start to take off with people adjusting the game to fit, then I suspect people will still be playing it for a long time to come – not least because this sort of realistic, hardcore, tactical shooter is a niche that has remained unfilled for a fair few years.
Takedown: Red Sabre is due out on 20 September and will cost £11.99, or £29.99 for a four-pack.